The recent surge in Covid-19 cases in India has led to fear of infection among the population. Over 6,000 cases in India are being recorded daily in India. Renowned virologists find the new Covid-19 variant called XBB.1.16 as the main culprit behind the rapid surge in cases. Detected in several countries so far, this new sub-variant of Omicron has infected thousands of people in India as well.
Health Shots reached out to Dr Jitendra Choudhary, Consultant – Intensive Care and Critical Care, Fortis Hiranandani Hospital Vashi, Mumbai, and Dr Vaishali Solao, Head and Sr. Consultant, Critical Care, Fortis Hospital Mulund, Maharashtra, to understand all about the new variant XBB.1.16.
What is XBB.1.16?
XBB.1.16 is a new mutant of Omicron that has been detected in several countries, including India. Currently, this sub-variant of Omicron accounts for 10 percent of the total cases in India. Dr Solao points out that the new sub-variant of Omicron has two mutations, one on spike protein and the second on the open reading frame.
Dr Choudhary says the XBB.1.16 is similar to the previous XBB.1.15 variant, but has additional mutations in the spike protein that may make it more infectious and potentially more severe. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified it as a variant under monitoring and said it is “one to watch”.
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Symptoms of XBB.1.16
While the infections caused by this sub-variant are not severe, you should be aware of the symptoms of the disease. The symptoms of XBB.1.16 are not different from the previous strains of Covid-19, adds Dr Choudhary. Some of the common symptoms you should look out for include:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Muscle ache
- Abdominal issues like diarrhoea
However, some studies have suggested that XBB.1.16 may cause more breakthrough infections and reinfections among people who have been vaccinated or previously infected, adds the expert.
Is the XBB.1.16 variant different from the previous variants?
First detected in Brazil in March 2023, the XBB.1.16 variant has several mutations that make it different variants, such as the alpha, beta, gamma, and delta variants. Dr Choudhary points out the following differences between this variant and the previous ones:
- The XBB.1.16 variant has a higher transmissibility rate, meaning it can spread more easily from person to person.
- The XBB.1.16 variant has a lower severity rate, meaning it causes less severe symptoms and hospitalisations than previous variants.
- The XBB.1.16 variant has a higher immune escape rate, meaning it can evade the protection of vaccines and natural immunity more effectively than previous variants.
These differences make the XBB.1.16 variant a potential threat to public health. This is why it requires more vigilance and preventive measures to contain its spread. Dr Solao points out that since previous Covid-19 variants coexist with the new strain, further genomic testing will throw light on the evolving situation.
Take Covid-appropriate measures to protect yourself against the infection
To prevent the spread of XBB.1.16, the following precautionary measures are recommended:
1. Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth when in public or around people who are not from your household.
2. Maintain social distancing of at least 2 meters from others
3. Avoid crowded and poorly ventilated spaces.
4. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
5. Get vaccinated as soon as possible if you are eligible and have not done so already.
6. If you have symptoms of Covid-19, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, or loss of taste or smell, stay home and seek medical attention.
7. Follow the local health authorities’ guidelines and regulations regarding testing, quarantine, and isolation.
By taking these precautionary measures, you can protect yourself and others from XBB.1.16 and help stop the pandemic.